A theatrical treat stretching across time: Mourad Merzouki’s Folia

Theaterhaus, Stuttgart (as part of the Colours International Dance Festival)
July 3, 2019

David Mead

It sounds just a tad crazy. Take hip hop in various guises, and add to it plenty of contemporary dance and a dash of ballet pointe work. Then layer it all with some Baroque designs and music. And just for good measure, season it with a splash of Spanish flair. Welcome to Mourad Merzouki’s Folia.

Merzouki has form for this sort of meeting of hip hop and other styles with Compagnie Kafig. In Folia, a collaboration with the noted Baroque ensemble Concert de l’Hostel Dieu from Lyon, he cooks up a superb theatrical treat, finding magical connections between the different dance styles, and across time.

FoliaPhoto Gilles Aguilar
Photo Gilles Aguilar

It opens serenely, almost trance-like. A few giant balls are scattered around the stage. Imagine them as planets, and in the middle of this universe sits the Earth, standing out with its green and blue. They’re used inventively. Dancers roll, toss, fall and rebound from them. Although it’s far from overplayed, there’s a serious message here about the folly of man too. In playing with the Earth, the dancers (mankind) also destroy it, the giant ball bursting suddenly in a cloud of dust, one person clinging to the last remnant.

At first, you just hear the Baroque strains but it’s not long before the red and gold brocade frock-coated musicians are revealed at the back of the stage. Their colour provides a striking contrast to the greys and beiges of the dancers. Sat behind a gauze, and with a few chandeliers dotted above, the musical ensemble appear like distant beings. The dusty stage floor also suggests faded grandeur and hints that we are somehow lost in time.

Musicians and soprano Heather Newhouse also get to come forward. Sometimes they appear in giant lanterns that look like super-sized seed pods, but that are open one side. At one point, Newhouse, who also gets to dance a little, appears out of the top of one, ‘wearing’ it as a giant voluminous dress.

FoliaPhoto Julie Cherki
Photo Julie Cherki

There are plenty of tumbles and spins, the expected show-off hip hop tricks. A solo from one of the men, full of high-speed gyrations on his back with few flips thrown in for good measure will long live in the memory. But the dance is about far more than that and is brim full of diversity. The appearance of a couple of women in pointe shoes to partner a male hip hop dancer comes unexpectedly but the way Merzouki makes the apparently clashing styles talk to one another is little short of brilliant.

The 15 dancers were all outstanding. Their energy was phenomenal, whether pent up and held in, or bursting forth in explosions of movement. You couldn’t help but notice the sharpness and accuracy; how sudden stops and momentary pauses were so absolutely still. And when it needed to be, the togetherness was great too, but with just enough space for individuality to shine through.

Folia. Magnificent. Quite magnificent. Bravo!

Maguy Marin's May BPhoto Hervé Deroo
Maguy Marin’s May B
Photo Hervé Deroo

The previous evening brought the great pleasure of Maguy Marin’s May B. There is something about Samuel Beckett and his characters that I find especially appealing; something about how timeless they always seem. To that, Marin adds a spectral beauty. As its cast of souls try to find their way through the maze of life, the work holds up a mirror on humanity. The attention to detail is remarkable. The performers inhabit the characters so completely that we believe utterly as we watch them fight, make up, love and cry, celebrate little successes, support each other. Oh yes, and eat cake.

There’s something special on the floor too. The footprints the cast leave as they shuffle around, the traces of their existence, creates a super, constantly changing art work. Beautiful.